Jonathon Taylor, CEO, Voxeo; and Ken Rehor, Chair, VoiceXML Forum

Voxeo focuses on providing standards-based IVR platforms and hosting. Its IVR and VOIP hosting, turnkey platforms, and developer services are powered by VoiceXML and CCXML.  Voxeo was founded in 1999 by Jonathan Taylor.

Speech Technology Magazine sat down with Jonathon Taylor, CEO of Voxeo, and Ken Rehor, chair of the VoiceXML Forum, to discuss Voxeo's recent certification on VoiceXML 2.0 and the VoiceXML Forum's Platform Certification Program.

Q. Voxeo just announced that it has been certified on VoiceXML 2.0.  What does this mean for the company and its offerings?

Jonathan Taylor: Last year the previous version of our platform, VoiceCenter 6.0, became one of the first in the industry to achieve VoiceXML certification. Our new platform, Voxeo Prophecy 2006, features several significant improvements over VoiceCenter 6.0, including support for MRCP and our own high-quality, free, bundled ASR and TTS engines. Prophecy just finished going through the VoiceXML platform certification process, and it was the first VoiceXML platform to pass all of the required and optional tests in the certification process.  No other platform had ever passed all of the optional tests before.

This achievement is really yet another sign of our commitment to open standards.  That commitment has brought us and our customers a series of first-to-market advantages over the last half decade.  We were the first to provide enterprise VoiceXML hosting, the first to deliver a CCXML platform, the first to offer a 100% uptime guarantee in hosting, and the first to offer the same platform for both premise and hosted speech deployments. 

Voxeo Prophecy uses a number of open standards, including VoiceXML, CCXML, SIP, MRCP and ENUM, to name just a few. We leverage these open standards to increase interoperability with other platforms and technologies, such as VoIP providers, speech engines, and speech development tools. As a result, the Voxeo Prophecy platform is more powerful, more flexible, and more cost-effective than other, proprietary platforms.

Q. What does it mean for a company to be VoiceXML 2.0 certified?

Ken Rehor:  There are more than 600 required and optional tests in the VoiceXML Forum's Platform Certification Program test suite.  There are 533 required tests that cover the core functionality of VoiceXML.  They represent the fundamental features of VoiceXML that all implementations must support.  The 71 optional tests cover functionality that was defined by the W3C and VoiceXML Forum as not required in all implementation scenarios.

To be "VoiceXML Forum 2.0 certified," a vendor's platform must pass all of the required tests and all of the optional tests that they claim to support.  Test results are reported in the form of a "Certification Test Report."  The current list of certified platforms is available on the VoiceXML Forum Web site at http://www.voicexml.org/platform_certification/certified_platforms.html.

Customers that insist their vendors offer VoiceXML Forum-certified platforms avoid vendor lock-in and reduce costs by helping to encourage the cross-vendor interoperability of platforms, applications, hosting services and tools.  Certification also eliminates uncertainty over language compatibility and functionality, making system planning and vendor selection easier.  For more details, see the Platform Certification Program FAQ at http://www.voicexml.org/platform_certification/faq.html.

Q. What is the benefit to your customers for your platform to be certified on VoiceXML? 

JT: The most obvious benefit to our customers is the complete peace of mind that comes from knowing that the Voxeo platform implements absolutely everything in the VoiceXML specification and that our products have always led the industry in terms of feature-complete capabilities.  In essence, we are continuously future-proofing our products.   Our customers know that a Voxeo VoiceXML platform will never need to be replaced by something that does more, because, simply put, for six years now there hasn't been a platform that does more than ours. If you look at the 20 or so other platforms in the industry, you'll find that not one of them provides literally everything an enterprise needs - VoiceXML, CCXML, SIP, call conferencing, call recording, comprehensive CTI, and free, bundled ASR and TTS - in one easy, integrated platform.  Prophecy does all that, and more.

Q. What is your impression of Voxeo's efforts to become fully certified?

KR:  We applaud Voxeo certifying two implementations with the VoiceXML Forum.  Voxeo is among a prestigious group of 14 industry leaders who have successfully certified their platforms through the Forum's Platform Certification Program.

Q. What motivated you to have all of your developers to be certified as well?

JT:  Customer service is Voxeo's number one priority, and we train our support staff extensively to ensure that our customers get a highly qualified person on the phone when they call support.  That's why every member of our support staff is a certified VoiceXML Application Developer.  Interestingly, we do not build any VoiceXML applications ourselves, yet we have more VoiceXML certified developers than any other company.  Our model has always been to provide excellent support in order to enable our partners and enterprise customers to build and deploy their own VoiceXML applications. The VoiceXML developer-certified Voxeo support team members are here to help them; they thoroughly understand the technical challenges and issues our customers and partners run into. Each team member is fully qualified to deal with any issue that comes up and even has the ability to suggest code revisions, offer sample code, and provide basic implementations if necessary. 

Q. The VoiceXML Forum also administers a Developer Certification Program.  What does it mean for developers to be certified? Why is this important?

KR:  The VoiceXML Forum administers two certification programs: the Platform Certification Program and the Developer Certification Program.  The Platform Certification Program certifies that implementation platforms conform to the VoiceXML specification.

The VoiceXML Developer Certification Program verifies baseline VoiceXML development skills and sets the standard for knowledge and training required to develop speech applications using the W3C Speech Interface Framework languages of VoiceXML 2.0, Speech Synthesis Markup Language 1.0, Speech Recognition Grammar Language 1.0, Semantic Interpretation Language 1.0, ECMAScript 262/327 and CCXML 1.0.  The Forum works with Thomson Prometric, the leading worldwide provider of comprehensive technology-based testing and assessment services, to administer the VoiceXML Developer Certification tests.  For more information about the Developer Certification Program, visit http://www.voicexml.org/certification/developer.html.

Q. Anything that you would like to add?

JT:  I can't emphasize enough how important open standards like VoiceXML and CCXML are to the future of the speech industry.  Telephony has been around for a century and has seen nothing like the explosive growth and transformative power of the Web in its first 10 years.  Why?  Because the Web was built around open standards like HTML and HTTP, with hundreds of thousands of Web developers able to create cool new applications with very little in the way of up-front design and deployment costs.

Voxeo's new Prophecy voice platform is our latest attempt to make speech application development more like Web development.  We use markup languages like VoiceXML and CCXML, offer aggressive pricing and bundled ASR and TTS at no extra cost, and supply Prophecy as an 80MB download that installs and handles calls in minutes.  Our focus in 2006 is to reduce the cost and complexity of speech applications as a way to spur the kind of innovation and widespread adoption that we have seen with the Web.

KR:  The VoiceXML Forum is currently working to prepare the platform certification testing for VoiceXML 2.1.  Sometime after the W3C ratifies VoiceXML 2.1 as a Recommendation, the Forum will launch the VoiceXML 2.1 certification testing.  Stay tuned for more information!

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